For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 31, 2001
Press Briefing by
By Ari Fleischer
Statement on Amendment to Agriculture Bill.................1
Patients' Bill of Rights.................................1-4
Mary Gall Nomination.....................................4-6
President Carter Visit...................................6-7
Election Reform/Report............................7-9, 11-12
Mexico/Vote on Trucking.................................9-10
Middle East/Continued Violence..................10-11, 13-14
Secretary O'Neill's Comments...........................12-13
the White House
Office of the Press Secretary
for Immediate Release July 31, 2001
Press Briefing By
the James S. Brady Briefing Room
11:52 A.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good
afternoon. I do not have any personnel items today, but I
would like to begin with a short announcement. I am pleased
to report to you today that Senators Snowe and Feinstein plan to offer
an amendment to the agricultural supplemental bill which is being
considered on the floor of the Senate today. This deals with
an administration concern about a prohibition that ties the
administration's hands from reserving options to encourage conservation
as part of the National Academy of Science's study on CAFE standards.
We are encouraged by our initial review of
the National Academy of Science's study that promotes
conservation. And the administration's eager to begin a
through review of the report. The President commends the two
Senators for their action, and he encourages the full Senate to pass
their important measures so that the administration can fully and
thoroughly review the National Academy of Science's report.
With that, I'm happy to take questions.
Q Ari, is Charlie
Norwood here, or is he coming here? What's the state of
MR. FLEISCHER: He's not here
Q Do you expect
MR. FLEISCHER: No meeting is
scheduled. I do not rule out that he and the President will
talk later today. They've been talking on a regular basis.
Q People on the
Hill seem to think that he's on his way here to discuss possible
changes in the legislation.
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have any
-- I can't confirm that, and I've just got an update on -- but let me
say this: As a result of several meetings that took place
late into the night last night at the staff level, as well as contacts
between the President and Congressman Norwood, a significant amount of
progress has been made in getting close to an agreement on a patients'
bill of rights.
The President is very pleased with the
amount of work and the progress of the work with Congressman Norwood
and with others, and the President is very hopeful that an agreement
can be reached. And I think that's it fair to say that the
nation is on the threshold of having a patients' bill of rights that
can be signed into law. There is some additional work that
does need to be done, but many of the differences that remain are
easily bridgeable if others who are working with Congressman Norwood
are interested in bridging those differences.
Q You say on the
threshold. On the threshold of an agreement with Republicans
in the House to get a bill through the House, or on the threshold of an
agreement that would then carry over to the Senate, which is controlled
by the other party?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there is
no question that if Congressman Norwood and President Bush enter into
an agreement, the votes will be there to pass it.
Q Does that answer
the question? You mean in the House?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, was
that your question, John? I thought that was.
Q That would be the
House. Do you think the Senate would then pick up on
whatever the House passed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course,
then you go to a conference with the Senate; that's regular order.
Q In addition to
Norwood, who's been involved in these discussions? Have Dingell and
Ganske also been involved?
MR. FLEISCHER: Congressman
Norwood has had follow-on discussions with others that have been
working closely with him. And there is additional
conversations to take place.
Q But basically
he's been negotiated for that group, is that how it's working?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you need
to ask Congressman Norwood that question.
Q Well, you know
who you're talking to. I mean, is it Norwood, or are you
also talking to Kennedy and McCain?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
has talked to Congressman Norwood; the President has talked to Senator
Kennedy. Senator McCain is playing a very helpful role in
this process, and the President is continuing to talk to members of
Congress and others are talking to members of Congress about support
for the Fletcher bill. So there is an awful lot of movement,
a lot of action, and we are in the middle of watching it all
unfold. And the President and the staff are continuing to
help -- help it unfold in a way that leads to a patient bill of rights
that gets enacted into law this year for the first time in eight
Q So, Ari, is that
to say that if the President were to speak, and plans to speak to
Norwood today, it's essentially to seal the deal to ensure a vote this
MR. FLEISCHER: You never know,
David. I think it all depends on the exact progress being
made. Hopefully, a deal can be sealed. It's very
close to having a deal be sealed, but additional conversations will
have to take place, as always, in a legislative process. So
I think you will just have to watch it unfold.
Q So is the
President now willing to go along with Congressman Norwood and others
and allow patients to sue in state court under state law?
MR. FLEISCHER: Under the
Fletcher proposal that the President supported, he always did agree to
a mixed venue of suits in federal court, suits in state
court. I'm not going to go into the exact details of any
impending agreement or compromise. Suffice it to say that in
order to get a patient bill of rights signed into law, this has to be
give-and-take on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. The
President is willing to do that; Congressman Norwood is willing to do
that. Between the two of them, an agreement can be
reached. The question is, will others who are working with
Congressman Norwood agree to also participate in the give-and-take so
that it can be signed into law.
Q You mean Dingell
and Ganske, correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I will
let events on the Hill speak for themselves. I will talk for
the President and let you know how encouraged the President is because
something very good can happen for the American people if people up on
Capitol Hill will let it happen.
Q Ganske and
Dingell have publicly raised concerns about protection of patients on
the state level under the current proposal.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, that's why
I indicated that the President has given and Congressman Norwood has
given, as part of a healthy, strong process of
give-and-take. The question is, will others on the Hill be
as equally interested in a good process of give-and-take so that the
American consumer and the American patient can get a patient bill of
rights signed into law. Or are there other political
concerns that will stop them from participating in what's been a very
healthy process of compromise and progress.
Q So if the
President reaches a deal with Congressman Norwood and you get a bill
through the House, will the President then say, this is as far as I'm
willing to give? Or will he then be willing to meet with
Senator Kennedy and give some more?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let's take it
one step at a time.
Q On the Gall
nomination to head the CPSC, I believe that all of the Democrats on the
committee have indicated that they plan to vote against her on
Thursday. Is it the White House's position that the
nomination will stand?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
stands proudly and tall behind Mary Gall's nomination to head the
Consumer Products Safety Commission.
MR. FLEISCHER: This vote coming
up on Thursday will be a very interesting first test of whether the
Senate is pursuing a new and partisan course. It's a very
interesting vote, because Mary Gall has been voted on twice before by
the United States Senate -- once in 1991 and once in 1999 -- for her
appointment to the very same commission that the President has proposed
to name her chairman of. And both times that she was
previously voted on there was not a single objection in the United
States Senate. All of a sudden, now, Democrat senators are
raising objections. It seems the only thing that's changed
is that she's now been nominated by President Bush, so therefore, some
Democrat senators are saying they're going to vote against her this
time, and they voted for her previously. And for the
senators to change their vote simply because with this time President
Bush appointing her suggests a new partisan course by the Senate that
would be very regrettable.
Q So let me ask you
this. Why wouldn't the Senate be partisan, and why would you
stay with a nominee who is sure to go down to defeat when you want
somebody of your choosing to head the Commission?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the
question is, why, when the United States Senate unanimously voted for
Mary Gall in 1991, and why when President Clinton, himself, nominated
Mary Gall, and why when the Senate unanimously voted for her in 1999,
would the Senate do anything differently now that it's 2001, unless the
only difference is that President Bush has made the
nomination? And that would be a real indication that this
new Senate is more interested in pursuing a partisan course than a fair
or balanced course. After all, they all voted for her
before, so what's different, what's new?
Q She's going to be
the chair. And I say, why wouldn't you expect them to be
MR. FLEISCHER: If the Senate
believes she was qualified to serve on the Commission in 1999 and in
1991, there's no difference now between her serving as chairman and her
serving as a member of the board.
Q Ari, the basis of
the objection has been that she is in favor of voluntary standards for
several baby products that have been recalled. Isn't the
administration concerned about that, if she were to head the Commission
MR. FLEISCHER: Certain
Democrats have raised objections to about four of her votes on the
Consumer Products Safety Commission. All those votes took
place prior to President Clinton naming her in 1999, and prior to those
very same Democrats voting for her in 1999. So they had that
information in 1999 and voted for her. Yet now that she's
being nominated by President Bush, they indicate that they will no
longer support her.
If they were to pursue that course, and if
the Senate were to vote no, it would be a real sign that this Senate,
this new Senate, is more interested in partisanship than progress,
because, after all, they would have flip-flopped on the very same
Q -- the
administration has no problem on voluntary standards of baby products?
Q I will take you
to the other side of the world. The Secretary of State Colin
Powell just returned from China, and the Assistant Secretary
for South Asia is in the area. Last year China promised to
the United States that they will not sell any missile defense or any
high-tech or military equipment to Pakistan, Iran and other countries
including Libya. But now, according to the CIA report, they are still
selling it. And I think Secretary of State had a message for
the Chinese. Can you talk about it a little
more? And if the Assistant Secretary is taking any message
from the President to the South Asian principals?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the
question of proliferation in China is always an important topic and
it's something that the administration has raised at the highest
levels. Secretary Powell has said China's record on
proliferation has been mixed, and that's a real source of
concern. That is something that has come up and will
continue to come up.
Q Was there any
discussion between Carter and President Bush on some of Carter's
comments on the President's foreign policy, tearing up all the treaties
we have made?
MR. FLEISCHER: There was a
private discussion between the two Presidents at the beginning of their
Q On this subject?
MR. FLEISCHER: It was a very
gracious discussion on both parts.
Q Was there an
MR. FLEISCHER: A private
Q What does that
MR. FLEISCHER: It means it was
a -- how can I rephrase it? Let me rephrase
this. It was a private discussion. Because I was
there for it.
Q Well, if you were
there, it's not private -- come on. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: If I don't tell
you, it's private.
Q Was it
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it was
gracious. It was gracious. President Carter was
Q Did he
MR. FLEISCHER: -- and President
Bush was gracious.
Q Did President
Carter or President Bush raise the recent criticisms.
MR. FLEISCHER: It was
private. I think you need to allow two former -- a former
President and a President to have private conversations.
Q Who initiated the
MR. FLEISCHER: Asked and
Q Who was more
Q Tell us
Q Where did this
gracious meeting occur?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the Oval
Office. It was prior to the event in the Rose Garden.
Q They were not
Q Did anybody else
attend -- other people other than you?
MR. FLEISCHER: It was a private
conversation between two Presidents and the people who were in the Oval
Office who heard it. I think we will all treat it as a
private conversation between a former President and the incumbent
Q Give us some
other names to call, will you? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I will give you
the Hansel and Gretel crumbs for you to follow the leads.
Q On election
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, go
Q If you're going
to answer, go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q On election
reform, why is the President reacting to all of this so
cautiously? I mean, endorsing sort of broad guidelines of a
report, some of which are pretty obvious, certainly not
controversial. I mean, who better than the President of the
United States knows the vagaries of the electoral system, given what he
has gone through?
MR. FLEISCHER: Listening to the
President's remarks today, he made clear that he embraces this report
and he does so warmly and thoroughly. And the President is going to
actively call on the Congress to enact it.
This is a very important bipartisan
recommendation on how to reform our nation's electoral system and do so
in a way that does not create a federal takeover of elections, or it
does not do so in a way that imposes mandates on the
states. The President, I thought, was very supportive of it
and he looks forward to working with Congress to push them on several
of the specifics.
Q If I can follow
up on that. When you say that he wants Congress to enact,
does that mean he endorses every single specific proposal?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, as the
President said, he has embraced the report. He spoke about the four
principles. There are some 13 overarching recommendations;
there are some 68 total recommendations, each dealing with varying
levels of specificity in the report --
Q And he supports
each one of those, we can assume?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you have
to allow the administration to have time to review it, and the
administration is going to work with Congress very closely on
Q Does the
President think felons should be allowed the right to vote after they
serve their time?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
believes broadly that anything that encourages more voter participation
is good for the system. I can only tell you, Ron, what the
President did in Texas on that question, and in Texas the President,
then governor, signed into law a measure that changed the number of
years a felon had to wait for the privilege of voting to be returned,
from two years after they left prison and served their probation
successfully to zero. So the President has already taken
action on that in Texas. I think that's indicative of the
fact when the President says that he's supports allowing more people to
vote, the better, that's a sign of what he's done in Texas.
Similarly, on the question of -- the
report had recommendations dealing with the rights of the disabled to
vote -- the President also signed legislation in
Texas that said the purchase of all new equipment must allow people who
are disabled, such as the blind, to be able to have access to a secret
ballot. Very often the blind have to have somebody else read
them the names and they would tell them who they wanted to vote for,
which runs contrary to the American spirit of having a secret ballot.
In Texas, President Bush led the way in
signing legislation that mandated that the state of Texas they would
have equipment that was accessible to the disabled and the blind to
preserve a secret ballot. So that's a couple of indications
of the President's history on these issues, his overall approach, which
again is that anything that encourages broader participation is good
for our democracy.
Q One more
follow-up. Does he agree that if the news media doesn't, on
its own, not report victors until 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time, that
Congress should pass a law not allowing governments to provide voting
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
reserves the right to review in more detail the specifics of the
recommendation, but he does think that is a good recommendation because
he believes it will help protect the integrity of the ballot, that will
help people in various regions of the country not be disenfranchised
because of events out of their control in a different region of the
One of the most enduring aspects of the
last election was when the networks and others called Florida before
Florida was actually closed. It had an impact not only on
the outcome of the vote in Florida, but it negatively impacted people's
ability to vote in several other close races around the
country. And I think the networks have admitted that there
was a problem in what they did, and there's an acknowledgement that
something needs to be done about it. Perhaps this report
will help the networks to decide what needs to be done.
Q On Mexican
trucks, what is the reading the White House is getting on Capitol
Hill? Any changes in all the entreaties the President has
been making, asking them to be fair?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there have
been a couple other test votes. The President is very
pleased Senator McCain and other senators are working very hard to make
certain that this provision is focused on by members of Congress so
that it can be reversed. The President continues to be
worried about the impact any such measure would have on Mexico, on
NAFTA, and he also worries that it is a real signal from the Senate
that they're retreating into isolationism. And he will
continue to work that issue hard.
Q Ari, can I follow
up on that? There are some signals from the Senate that the
vote could take place in September. Do you think maybe the
vote will be in the same time when President Fox is doing his state
visit to President Bush? Do you think that will be a bad
signal from the government of the United States to the Mexican
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not
going to speculate about the timing of the vote. Whether the
vote is today, whether the vote is in the middle of the visit of
President Fox or whether the vote is after that, it's wrong any time
for the United States Senate to take action that's unfair to Mexico and
is anti-NAFTA. And that is what the President is dedicated
to, is reversing the action in the Senate so that we treat our partners
to the south in a fair fashion.
Q Is the President
concerned that the reason for this anti-Mexican trucking vote is not
just protectionism, but prejudice against the increasing presence of
Mexican-American and Mexican business in the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I have never
heard the President say that.
you. Just to change topics again, the increasing violence in
the Middle East and what else is new. Does the White House
blame one side over the other? And do you see any cause at
all for optimism here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the
situation in the Middle East remains very difficult for all
sides. The recent violence is another reminder of the need
for the two parties to engage in efforts to reinvigorate the cease-fire
so that a relative calm can be restored to the region. It's
another tragic reminder of how difficult events in the region are.
Q Are they both
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the
President has called on all sides to break the cycle of violence and
Q Back on the
election reform, what about the national holiday?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
thinks that there are some compelling reasons to have a national
holiday. He is interested in that
recommendation. Specifically in the case of the bipartisan
commission, they have mentioned Veterans Day as a possible day for a
national holiday. The President thinks it's important to talk to
veterans groups before endorsing such a proposal. But again,
the President's approach is anything that maximizes voter participation
is good for democracy. And other states have had good
experiences in maximizing turnout as a result of things like
holidays. So the President wants to take a good look at
that, but he thinks there are some compelling reasons.
Q And in accepting
this report, is there an acknowledgment by the President that the
election that brought him to office was screwed up?
MR. FLEISCHER: In accepting
this report, there is an acknowledgment that the election that brought
him to office was close --
Q You're a master
of understatement. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: And I think the
whole nation learned from what took place in the previous election and
there ar good lessons to be learned from it.
One of the things that is very important
in this report -- and this is one of the reasons the President has so
warmly embraced it and welcomed President Carter and Congressman
Michel and the commissioners here today -- is you'll notice,
this report was not done in a spirit of partisanship and this report
was not done in a spirit of trying to re-fight an election that brought
about powerful emotions on both sides. This was very careful
work, very cautious work, and very bipartisan work. And the
President wants to make sure that the Congress takes up its work in the
Q As a guy who
wants smaller government, does he support another commission, election
commission, that is proposed in this report and spending $1 million to
$2 million over the course of the next several years to help states
update their election systems?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
wants to work with Congress on the amount of funding necessary to help
implement this bipartisan report's recommendations and that's where he
Q How about on the
election commission? Do we need another commission?
MR. FLEISCHER: I am going to
have to take a look at that specifically, and that will be part of the
Q Is that
antithetical to the idea of having the states retool on their own
without mandates, without another federal commission to oversee
them? I mean, just philosophically, what's your view on
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly,
the first recommendation in the report, the first principle was the
primacy of state and local elections.
Q So is this at
odds with that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it
depends on what the commission does and the President is going to
review that, a follow-on commission.
Q Right. But does he support a
commission or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: He is going to
review each of those recommendations. As I mentioned, there were some
68 specific recommendations in it. The report was received
by the President at 11:00 a.m. this morning and I think he is entitled
to a couple hours at least, maybe longer, to look at it.
Q But you keep
framing it as if these issues have not been hashed out by the President
and his entire team going back to the campaign.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the
question of a second commission, I don't think that is something that
has really been explored.
You seem to have an important question.
Q I think it
is. Treasury Secretary O'Neill has been heavily criticized
for his comments last week in the Financial Times, saying he wasn't the
fire department, with many Europeans and others feeling that this means
a certain amount of nonchalance from the U.S. side with regard to the
burgeoning financial crisis. I was wondering, is somebody
else the fire department? Do you have a fire bell to sound
the alarm if you see that there is a problem? Do you have
fire spotters -- (laughter) -- looking at the various elements of smoke
coming up in various parts of the world economy? What is the
status of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank
you. I understand why you were fired up to ask your
question. I think the administration under Secretary
O'Neill's leadership has been very vigilant and working well with
allies around the world to recognize the impact of our global economy
on one another and Secretary O'Neill will continue in that
vein. He is doing a very good job at it.
Q Within the last
48 hours, 14 people were killed in the Middle East. Two of
them are children, 8 years and 10 years old. Many people
don't think the case-fire that you helped negotiate will take hold in
the presence of an -- declared target killing of Palestinians that the
Israeli government has adopted. What can you say about your
efforts to stop the Israeli government from this policy that many
people see the cease-fire will not take hold with it?
MR. FLEISCHER: When the
President talks about a cessation of violence and a cease-fire, it
means no killing of anybody. And, of course, that applies to
civilians, it applies to all. Violence is violence and the
President has deplored the violence in the region and he has called on
all parties to implement fully the terms of the Mitchell Commission
recommendations which begins with a cease-fire. A cease-fire
is a cease-fire is a cease-fire.
Q This is an
official policy by the Israeli government of target killing, which the
Chief Rabbi has even condoned. And what are you doing about
it, to stop it?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
has called on all parties to implement the Mitchell Committee
recommendations. And if there is a cease-fire in place, it
means there will be no killings at all.
Q The question is,
does the President approve of a policy of assassination of your
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, the
President approves of a full cease-fire, implemented by all parties.
Q This country took
a strong stand against assassination. And Israel has a
policy. What do we think of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Any such action
is a violation of the cease-fire. And the President calls on
all parties to abide by the cease-fire.
Q Why don't you
pull out a little paper and read it again?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's the
Q What about the
Palestinian's position of just arbitrarily bombing women, children,
people at will? Does the President support that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, before we
get into a debate in this room, reporter on reporter, I want to suggest
that the President's position is the position of this government,
because he believes it is the best way to help restore peace to a
region of the world that has not had a recent good history of keeping
this peace. And the President is going to continue to work
hard with the leaders of the region to achieve it.
Q And he
understands people fighting against military occupation for 50 years?
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 12:17 P.M. EDT